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through the fuselage of the plane, wounding each of the five crewmen in the cargo area.


At the moment the plane was hit by the mortar, John had


just handed a flare to Airman Ellis Owen, the plane’s gunner. Airman Owen had his finger through the safety pin ring waiting for the command from the Major Carpenter to throw it out the cargo door. Once the safety pin was removed, there would be a 10 second delay before the parachute would open, then another 10 second delay for the magnesium to ignite. The impact from the mortar explosion caused Spooky 71 to fly out of control, banking at about 30 degrees to the right. This, along with his injuries, caused Airman Owen to drop the Mark-24 Flare, releasing the safety pin and activating the arming sequence. The flare was now into the 20 second activation phase.


hospital in Japan where John spent over 2 months recovering from his injuries.


It was only after landing the plane that Major Carpenter


learned of the actions of Airman Levitow. Seeing the damage and hearing the statements from the crew describing the heroic actions of Airman Levitow, Major Carpenter realized that cer- tain destruction and loss of life of Spooky 71 was prevented by the actions of John. The blood trail also told the story. Major Carpenter would promptly submit John for the Medal of Honor. This was the first mission John and Major Carpenter flew together. John was returning a favor to the regular load- master who had flown a mission for him earlier when he had been ill.


This mission was number 181 for John. After recov-


ering from his injuries, he returned to Vietnam and flew 20 additional missions. After completing his SEA assignment he returned to the States and finished out his military obligation as a loadmaster on C-141 aircraft at Norton Air Force Base, California at the rank of Sergeant. He returned to his home town of Glastonbury, CT, and entered into the civilian work force with the State of Connecticut in the field of veteran’s affairs. This work consisted of developing and designing vet- eran’s programs with the Department of Veteran Affairs. John was Assistant to the Commissioner.


On Armed Forces Day, May 14, 1970 President Richard


Levitow’s heroics saved Spooky 71, but it was shot to pieces. At top, a sheet-metal repair crew patches some of its 3,500 bullet holes. (Photo courtesy Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute/Enlisted Heritage Hall)


John had received over 40 shrapnel wounds in his side,


back, and legs. He was bleeding heavily. The gunner was wounded and had fallen to the floor dangerously close to the open cargo door. Even with his injuries, John managed to reach that crew member and pull him away from the open door to safety. At that moment he saw the activated flare rolling freely inside the cargo area amongst the several thousand rounds of live ammunition for the mini guns and the remaining flares. John tried to grab the flare but was unable to reach it. With severe bleeding from his wounds, and his right leg almost par- alyzed from injuries, John managed to throw himself onto the flare and push it to the open door. There he shoved it outside just before it ignited safely away from the plane. A short time after that John fell into unconsciousness. A blood trail gave evidence of his path of actions.


Major Carpenter was able to regain control of the airplane


and land it back at their home base. Ambulances and medi- cal personnel were waiting for the injured. John and one other crewman, who was also severely wounded, were flown to a


54 │ AIR COMMANDO JOURNAL │ Fall 2011


M. Nixon conducted a special ceremony at the White House to honor 12 Armed Service members with the Medal of Honor. Five were Army, three were Navy, two were Marines, and two were Air Force. John L. Levitow was one of the Air Force recipients. What makes John Levitow stand out from the others is that he is the only loadmaster, and at that time, the first and only enlisted Airman to receive the Medal of Honor.


In less than twenty seconds on the night of February 24,


1969 Airman John L. Levitow performed acts of bravery that have become legend in the U.S. Air Force. For those actions the Air Force has recognized him in several different ways.


• He has been included in the Air Force Professional Fitness Exam Booklet.


• There is the Levitow Honor Graduate Award presented


to the top graduate in the Airman Leadership School; the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy; and the Senior Non- Commissioned Officer Academy.


• The 737 Training Group headquarters building at


Lackland AFB was named in his honor. • In 1998 a C-17 Globemaster III was named in his honor


by the Air Mobility Command, the first aircraft to be named for an enlisted person. ‘THE SPIRIT OF SGT. JOHN L. LEVITOW’. John was present for the dedication and unveil- ing in California.


• Also in 1998 he was added to the Hurlburt Field Walk


of Fame, which was established to recognize Medal of Honor recipients.


• He was the Airlift-Tanker Association’s “Hall of Fame” inductee in 1998.


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